EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

(P049)
What are we talking about when we talk about the Mafia? Futures of a contested term
Location U6-25
Date and Start Time 20 July, 2016 at 14:30
Sessions 2

Convenors

  • Theodoros Rakopoulos (University of Bergen) email
  • Naor Ben-Yehoyada (Columbia University) email

Mail All Convenors

Chair Dr Theodoros Rakopoulos

Short Abstract

What is the mafia" is a cognitive and political pursuit for experts, state officials and the lay public. This panel explores ethnographies of the constitution of the definition, drawing from the political and jural realm and activist circles.

Long Abstract

While anti-Mafia investigations are as old as the Mafia itself, the debate about what the Mafia is and how to fight it remains open. This is at once a cognitive and a pragmatic debate, solidifying expert knowledge, implicitly involving state officials, and indeed shaping how common people imagine the social relations that they conceive as central to the operation of the Cosa Nostra and other mafias. For instance, is corruption identified as economic exchange or is it a moment in an ongoing, multifaceted relationship, involving more reciprocity and redistribution than exchange? What relational images do we invoke when we seek to explain to ourselves and to others 'what the Mafia is'? What normativities do such definitions acquire or inspire?

This panel will explore how this debate has shaped social, political, legal, cultural and investigative perceptions and representations of the "Mafia" and how it positions anti-Mafia investigators at the heart of the struggle over the relationship between the state and society.

The papers in this panel follow investigators, experts, activists and people sharing social milieux with Mafiosi, as they attempt to understand the Mafia, and to convince their peers and the public that they know best what the Mafia is. By examining how sociological imaginaries of corruption, violence and social control, as well as the politics of definition and evidence shape this struggle, we delve into the power dynamics that shape the meaning and the reach of law, politics, and knowledge.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Mafias and contraband capitalism

Authors: Jane Schneider (CUNY)  email
Peter Schneider (Fordham University)  email

Short Abstract

One approach to the question “What is the Mafia?” is to analyze what it might seem to be, but is not. This paper argues for disaggregating the historical processes that generated the world’s mafias from processes that generated what might be called the world system of contraband capitalism.

Long Abstract

One approach to the question "What is the Mafia?" is to analyze what it might seem to be, but is not. This paper argues for disaggregating the historical processes that generated the world's mafias from processes that generated what might be called the world system of contraband capitalism. Crucial to the latter has been the dialectical contradiction, in the United States, between prohibitionist law, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, an expansive and determinedly unfettered market culture. United States hegemony in the twentieth century meant that this dialectic (which we nickname "purity and the production of danger") expanded globally, setting off a very high capacity for capital accumulation through contraband. This capacity, which is not intrinsic to mafias, has dramatically transformed them, just as it has transformed all manner of criminal organizations, from small-scale smuggling rings and territorial youth gangs to rogue para-militaries. We will discuss how the Sicilian Mafia changed, as entrepreneurs of contraband drugs (some mafiosi among them) galvanized its leaders for a role in one of the world's most lucrative commodity chains: the illegal traffic in heroin.

Mafia Capitale and the ambiguous discourse on criminality in Rome

Author: Stefano Portelli (University of Rome)  email

Short Abstract

The scandal of "Mafia Capitale" in Rome unleashed discourses on criminality and corruption whose impact was different in each local context. Their ambiguities are more evident if observed from the district of Ostia, the only part of the city that was officially declared "mafioso."

Long Abstract

In November, 2014, a police inquiry discovered a huge network of corruption centered on the City Council of Rome, that led to the arrest of over 100 local politicians, and ultimately to the decay of the mayor. The inquiry, dubbed "Mafia Capitale" by the press, unveiled publicly the "secret of Pulcinella" of the presence of criminal networks in the Italian capital, but also fostered a semantic extension of the term "mafia" involving representations of Rome as a hopeless tangle of corruption and personal interests rooted in widespread everyday behaviors. Such essentialisms, ultimately covering up real criminal activities, are widely studied in the Italian South; but the contemporary discourses about Mafia in Rome deserve more specific ethnographic attention.

I propose a reflection based on ongoing observation of Ostia, coastal suburb of Rome, which received waves of immigrants and Romans "evicted from eternity". In 2015 it was put under a temporary receivership for the alleged presence of "mafias". I focus on two sectors, Nuova Ostia (where 10,000 slum dwellers were relocated in 1974) and Idroscalo (spontaneous settlement threatened of demolition, setting of Pasolini's murder in 1975). Forced displacement might have increased the dependency on criminal networks; but residents claim now that discourses on "mafia" are used to justify arbitrary evictions and new episodes of displacement. Analysis of these discourses and of the reactions they elicit on the ground, can shed light on the contradictions of the antimafia, on its possible manipulations, and on its consequences in vulnerable local contexts.

'I can feel the mafia but I can't see it': the anthropological imagination of criminal justice magistrates in western Sicily

Author: Naor Ben-Yehoyada (Columbia University)  email

Short Abstract

Antimafia investigations are as old as the Sicilian Mafia itself, but the debate about what the Mafia is remains unresolved. The paper follows this conundrum from the Palermo maxitrial to current magistrates’ and investigators’ dilemmas and conceptions in the province of Trapani.

Long Abstract

Antimafia investigations are as old as the Sicilian Mafia itself - both date to as early as the mid-nineteenth century. Nevertheless, the debate about what the Mafia is, let alone how to fight it, has remained unresolved to this day. The current shape of Antimafia criminal justice formed around the maxi-trial of Palermo from the mid-1980 to the early 199s. During those years, successful investigation, prosecution, and conviction of leading mafiosi relied on a forensic paradigm that constructed the mafia as a hierarchical and unitary criminal organization, according to which "everything is connected" in the intersection of politics, economy, and social relations.

The paper follows the trajectory of this forensic paradigm from the Palermo maxi-trial to present-day magistrates and investigators in the province of Trapani. I discuss their dilemmas regarding the social, political and economic thread of the object of their investigation. This conundrum embeds magistrates' investigations in the struggle over the relationship between state institutions, organized crime, culture, and society. By studying the latest reemergence of this conundrum, I analyse the role of forensic evidence and anthropological imagination in constituting the relationship between state and society. Specifically, I examine how changing conceptions of the morality of social relations - reciprocal, redistributive, and exchange-based - shape judicial and public deployments of concepts of justice as well as demands on the state to act as a moral agent representing the entire community.

Conversion in the grey zone: mafia "repentants", Sicilian talk, and fieldwork dilemmas

Author: Theodoros Rakopoulos (University of Bergen)  email

Short Abstract

Our cognitive insight into the mafia has been mediated through "mafia repentants" confessions. Exploring their position in making and unmaking the mafia, this paper also engages in presenting dilemmas in ethnographic inquiry sometimes caught in the grey zone between mafia and antimafia.

Long Abstract

Silence and talk in Sicily can appear as dichotomical moral universes. The ethnography presented in this article takes into account the existing moral and moralized antithesis between concealing and revealing, in the context of Sicilian mafia and antimafia. It focuses principally on an agent challenging this apparent dichotomy, the pentiti - the mafia's 'repentants', who break the omertà and confess to the authorities of their own and their colleagues' crimes. Rejecting utilitarian approaches that see Mafiosi confessions as simple market-like exchanges between individual agents and the state, I discuss confession beyond an atomised context, through its social and socialised effects. The move of Mafiosi's confessional material from a private exchange to a matter of the public sphere has been a main insight on the inner workings of the mafia. It also recalls anthropological comparisons with religious ritual. Following this line of inquiry, the paper suggests that secular confession should be approached through the lens of its effects on the lives of others.

In pursuing how concealing and revealing are unsettled in praxis, the paper also discusses anthropological dilemmas on talk and silence. The delicacy of negotiating between those demanding silence (the mafia) and those demanding self-revelation (the antimafia activists) presents another form of unsettling, this time concerning fieldwork ethics. Bringing forward these two points of conversion between concealment and revelation, the paper attempts to unpack this conversion's intellectual challenge in terms of the problems and solutions it provides regarding our understanding of mafia, antimafia, and the grey zone in between.

Bows and "masculiate" (fireworks)

Author: Berardino Palumbo (University of Messina)  email

Short Abstract

Over the past few years Italian media have focused their attention on cases where the presence of the organized crime has manifested itself in public rituals of the Catholic devotional tradition. I will try to analyze such a connection basing my interpretation on a long term Sicilian ethnography.

Long Abstract

Over the past few years Italian media have focused their attention on cases where the presence of the organized crime has manifested itself in public rituals of the Catholic devotional tradition. In many Southern Italian contexts the ecclesiastical hierarchies have distanced themselves in an ever more marked way from similar devotional practices and from the control criminal organizations are supposed to exert upon them. It seems to me that similar events deserve a specific anthropological and ethnographic focus, also because of the prejudices gathering around the so-called "bows". In fact such a religion in Italian public debates is entrapped between a disemic attitude, which allows changing positions in the national public space, and a long running brescianesimo (Gramsci) that, using irony, immobilizes national and global hierarchies of values, and sanctions the archaic, not modern character of social practices. But, first of all, how to read such a bows-religion? To answer this question from an anthropological perspective we need to deconstruct notions that current public debates take for granted: that of "public space", for example, but also those of "modernity", "politics", "religion", and obviously the moral economy of the "modern self". In my communication I will try to disjoint some of these conceptual cruxes basing my analysis on a long term Sicilian ethnography.

Photographing the Mafia or how to photograph something that doesn't exist?

Author: Deborah Puccio-Den (CNRS-EHESS)  email

Short Abstract

My talk will focus on Letizia Battaglia and Franco Zecchin, two photographers who constituted a new iconography of the Mafia. Their work allows us to follow the multiple transformations of anti-Mafia photographs: from tools supporting the mobilisation, to pieces of evidence, now turned into art objects.

Long Abstract

In the seventies, in Italy as in Sicily, the existence of the Mafia was no more than a conjecture. Some judges were trying to prove that the Mafia was a criminal organisation, while activists were denouncing its negative effects by demonstrations and other forms of protestation. One of these - the one that I want to stress - was the anti-Mafia photography. Because the Mafia was a secret society, to capture images of the "Mafiosi" was a declaration of war, fighting with what the force of the Mafia was: its ability to hide and infiltrate society surreptitiously. Because this photography showed scenes of poverty, degradation, social inequality and political corruption, it created a new semantic field of what the Mafia "really" and "objectively" was. My talk will focus on Letizia Battaglia and Franco Zecchin, two photographers who, through their twenty years experience, constituted a new iconography of the Mafia. Their work allows us to follow the multiple transformations of anti-Mafia photographs: from tools supporting the mobilisation, to pieces of evidence, now turned into art objects. I will conclude by drawing a comparison between their adventure and what it means to photograph the Mafia nowadays, using as an example, Mauro d'Agati, a photographer of Neapolitan Camorra.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.